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China's FAST Telescope Opens To Scientists Around the World

  • Aerial photo shows the Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, Guizhou Province, China, March 31, 2021.

    Aerial photo shows the Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, Guizhou Province, China, March 31, 2021. | Photo: Xinhua

Published 31 March 2021
Opinion

Astronomers can submit their observation applications for evaluation till May 15 and the results will be announced on July 20.

China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), the world's largest filled-aperture and most sensitive radio telescope, has officially opened to the world starting on Wednesday.

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Experts expect the gigantic telescope to bolster global astronomical research and find answers to some of the biggest unknowns in modern astrophysics and cosmology.

The National Astronomical Observatories (NAO) announced that astronomers globally can submit their observation applications for evaluation till May 15 and the results will be announced on July 20. Observations by overseas scientists will begin in August.

About 10 percent of FAST's observation time in the first year is expected to be allocated to foreign scientists, the NAO researcher Li Di said.

Many global astronomers have been looking forward to the opening of FAST following the collapse of the 305-meter vast telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico last December.

Wu Xiangping, an academician with the CAS and director of FAST's science committee, said the applications submitted by domestic and overseas scientists will be evaluated by top international experts in their respective fields to ensure that the approved applications are in line with scientific frontiers.

Pre-research on the FAST project started in 1994 and its construction was completed in September 2016. It began formal operations in January 2020 after more than three years of test runs. Since then, the telescope has provided stable and reliable services.

As the world's most sensitive radio telescope, FAST, based on observables between 70 MHz and 3 GHz, is over 2.5 times more sensitive than Arecibo. It can effectively explore four times more the scope of the universe space compared to Arecibo, greatly expanding the human observation of the universe.

To date, FAST has found over 300 pulsars, and the number is expected to reach 1,000 in the next five years. Scientists are already using it to track Andromeda, the nearest galaxy, where they hope to find the first extragalactic pulsar.

FAST's operation and maintenance team is working to fine-tune algorithms and upgrade software systems to further improve its observation efficiency and meet the growing demand from the international astronomical community.

Every small improvement in FAST's hardware and software is essential as the project team seeks to maintain the telescope's leading position in the high-competitive radio astronomy field.

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